O'HARA'S DRAFT DAY COUNTDOWN: Weighing offensive vs. defensive needs

Posted May 8, 2014

A case can be made for the Lions to draft for offense, but a stronger case can be made for defense.

The bottom line of a team’s NFL draft is not like a financial balance sheet. Projecting the value of a potential pick involves more than subtracting liabilities from assets to get the net result.

But some numbers add up for the draft in general, and the Lions in particular.

The numbers in this year’s Draft Day Countdown show two things:

  • A case can be made for the Lions to draft for offense – a receiver first, then an offensive lineman. But a stronger case can be made for defense – up front, linebacker or the secondary. A quality player at any level can improve the whole unit.
  • Expect trades – on every pick of every round, except compensatory picks, which are embargoed from trades.

There is also a look at what positions the Lions might fill in the later rounds, numbers that show why they should be preparing for the draft as defending NFC North champions and drafting in the mid-20s instead of at No. 10, and the last word in a recent quote from former NFL GM Charley Casserly that defines the Lions’ status.

We start with further analysis of my Mock 10 first-round pick for the Lions.

1. OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA: There is more to like about Barr than his physical ability, and he has plenty of that – almost 6-5, 251 pounds with the frame to get bigger, sub 4.5 speed in the 40 and a background on offense. Before shifting to defense, he played running back and tight end, which shows agility and change of direction that lets him drop into coverage.

Add to it a high score in the Wonderlic test, and the bottom line is a prospect with no glaring weakness for where the Lions draft.

2. Defining stats: In his last two seasons at UCLA, Barr got players on the ground. He had 40.5 tackles for loss and 23.5 sacks. He accounted for 64 negative plays for the opposing offense in 27 games.

3. The case for defense: The fault for the skid that put the Lions out of the playoffs does not rest entirely with any unit. The offense had too many turnovers, especially a crucial interception returned for a touchdown in the overtime loss to the Giants in Game 15.

But the defense did not close the door on leads. The Lions lost six of their last seven games, and in all six games, the defense gave up the go-ahead TD in the fourth quarter or in overtime.

In the fourth quarter of those six losses, the defense had three sacks and one interception. Safety Glover Quin had one of the sacks and the interception.

Quarterbacks delivered the ball quickly against the Lions to beat the rush, but there is still a need for more pressure.

4. 2013 sacks stat: Of the teams that ranked in the top 12 in sacks last season, only the Bills and Rams had losing records. The Dolphins were 8-8.

The other nine – including the Super Bowl champion Seahawks – had winning records, as did the Broncos, who finished in a three-team tie for 13th place in sacks.

The Bills and Rams had extenuating circumstances involving their own quarterbacks. The Bills started rookie E.J. Manuel in 10 games, with a 4-6 won-lost record. The Rams lost fourth-year starter Sam Bradford for the season after seven starts and a 3-4 won-lost record.

Bottom line: quarterback play is vital. So is sacking him.

A pass-rusher can make more impact than a defensive back, even though Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are solid candidates at No. 10.

5. The case for offense: The Lions’ offense already is potent, but the right player at the right position would elevate it further. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins of Clemson is the right player at the right position.

Sammy WatkinsWR Sammy Watkins (Photo: AP Images)

However, it would require trading up to get Watkins. If the Lions are going to trade into the range to get Watkins – probably to the top three but no lower than top five – they might consider doing it for defense, or stay at 10.

Eric Ebron, an athletic and productive tight end, and one of the offensive tackles would add quality to the offense. But if it’s all equal, the needle points to defense.

6. Trades: Count on them.

In the last three years, 35 of 96 picks in the first round have changed teams, 40 of 96 in the second round and 35 of 96 in the third round.

In the first round in 2012, all six picks from No. 2-7 changed teams via trades.

7. Lions after 10: With a deep draft, the Lions are in position to add a receiver, cornerback, interior offensive lineman, another linebacker and overall depth.

They have four of the first 111 picks in the first four rounds, plus two compensatory picks in Round 4 (133 and 136).

Some options after No. 10:

  • Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. of LSU is an intriguing prospect who’s gotten some mention as a possibility for the Lions at No. 10. His size – or lack of it, at 5-11 – works against him. I’d question taking him lower in the first round, too. If he’s too small at No. 10, why wouldn’t he be too small at No. 20?
  • Depending on what happens in the first round, linebacker Kyle Van Noy of Brigham Young looks like a second-round fit, along with safety Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois and wide receiver Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt.
  • Allen Robinson of Penn State and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s is a productive receiver who’d be a third-round candidate along with one of the interior offensive linemen and cornerbacks.

After the third round, draft for development. Two small-college possibilities are cornerback Pierre Desir of Lindenwood and pass-rusher Larry Webster, a converted basketball player from Bloomsburg.

8. Cornerback class: It is step-up time for the Lions’ young quarterbacks. They have drafted four in the last two years. In 2012, they took Bill Bentley (third round), Chris Greenwood (fifth) and Jonte Green (sixth). Darius Slay was a second-round pick last year.

In his pre-draft press conference on Monday, Mayhew said that three years is the tipping point in a cornerback’s development curve. If they haven’t made it in three years, odds are they won’t make it, Mayhew said. The spotlight’s on the 2012 class.         

9. Sad stats: In 2013, the Lions were the only NFC North team with a winning record (4-2) in the division, a positive points differential (plus 19) and a No. 1 quarterback (Matthew Stafford) who started all 16 games.

There’s no way they shouldn’t have won the North and hosted a first-round playoff game.

10. The last word: From Charley Casserly, in a commentary on NFL Network:

“If I’m Detroit, I’m not in the building mode. I’m in the winning mode.”

That echoes what Jim Caldwell said when he was hired.

The mandate is to win in 2014, not build.